III.3 For September 14, 1940
Venerunt nuptiae Agni et uxor eius praeparavit se(Rv 19:7). “The marriage of the Lamb has come and his Bride has prepared herself.” This is certainly what echoed in our hearts on the eve of our holy profession and should be echoing again as we solemnly renew our holy vows. Mysterious words that conceal the deeply mysterious meaning of our holy vocation. Who is the Lamb? Who is the Bride? And what kind of marriage supper is this?
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rv 5:6). When the seer of Patmos had this vision, the unforgettable day on the Jordan when John the Baptist showed him the “Lamb of God” who “takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29) was still fresh in his memory. At that time, he had understood the word and now he understood the image. He who had once walked along the Jordan and who now appeared to him in white raiment with flaming eyes and with a judge’s sword, the “first and the last” (Rv 1:17) he had in truth accomplished what the rites of the Old Covenant had suggested symbolically. When on the most momentous and holiest day of the year the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, into the supremely holy place of God’s presence, he had previously taken two goats from the people: one on which to lay the people’s sins, which were then carried out into the wilderness; the other to sprinkle its blood on the tent and ark of the covenant (Lv 16). This was the sin offering for the people. In addition, he had to provide a young bullock for himself and his house as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. He also had to sprinkle the throne of grace with the blood of the bullock. When he had prayed, unseen by human eyes, for himself and his house and for all the people of Israel, he came out to the waiting people, and sprinkled the outer altar to cleanse it from his sins and those of the people. Then he sent the living goat into the wilderness, brought forward his own burnt offering and that of the people, and had the rest of the sin offering burned before the camp (and later before the gates). The Day of Atonement was a monumental and holy day. People remained in the holy place praying and fasting. And in the evening when everything had been accomplished, there was peace and joy in their hearts because God had taken away the burden of sin and given grace.
But what had effected the reconciliation? Not the blood of the slaughtered animals and not the high priest of Aaron’s descent St Paul made this so compellingly clear in his letter to the Hebrews but rather the real sacrifice of reconciliation which was anticipated in all these legally prescribed sacrifices, and the high priest after the order of Melchizedek, who was represented by the priests of Aaron’s line. He was also the true Passover Lamb for whose sake the angel of death passed over the houses of the Hebrews when he slew the Egyptians. The Lord himself made the disciples understand this when he ate the lamb of sacrifice with them for the last time and then gave himself to them as food.
But why did he choose the lamb as the preferred symbol? Why did he continue to reveal himself in this form on the eternal throne of glory? Because he was innocent as a lamb and meek as a lamb; and because he came in order to allow himself to be led as a lamb to the slaughter (Is 53:7). This, too, John had witnessed when the Lord permitted himself to be bound at the Mount of Olives and nailed to the cross at Golgotha. There on Golgotha the true sacrifice of reconciliation was accomplished. Thereby the old sacrifices lost their efficacy; and soon they ceased entirely, as did also the old priesthood when the temple was destroyed. John had witnessed all of this. Therefore, he was not surprised at the Lamb on the throne. And because he was a faithful witness to the Lamb, the Bride of the Lamb was also shown to him.
He saw “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband” (Rv 21:2 and 9ff.). As Christ himself descended to earth from heaven, so too his Bride, the holy church, originated in heaven. She is born of the grace of God, indeed descended with the Son of God himself; she is inextricably bound to him. She is built of living stones; her cornerstone was laid when the Word of God assumed our human nature in the womb of the Virgin. At that time there was woven between the soul of the divine Child and the soul of the Virgin Mother the bond of the most intimate unity which we call betrothal.
Hidden from the entire world, the heavenly Jerusalem had descended to earth. From this first joining in betrothal, there had to be born all the living building blocks to be used for the mighty structure: each individual soul awakened to life through grace. The Bridal Mother was to become the mother of all the redeemed. Like a spore from which new cells stream continually, she was to build up the living city of God. This hidden mystery was revealed to St John as he stood beneath the cross with the Virgin Mother and was given over to her as her son. It was then that the church came into existence visibly; her hour had come, but not yet her perfection. She lives, she is wedded to the Lamb, but the hour of the solemn marriage supper will only arrive when the dragon has been completely conquered and the last of the redeemed have fought their battle to the end.
Just as the Lamb had to be killed to be raised upon the throne of glory, so the path to glory leads through suffering and the cross for everyone chosen to attend the marriage supper of the Lamb. All who want to be married to the Lamb must allow themselves to be fastened to the cross with him. Everyone marked by the blood of the Lamb is called to this, and that means all the baptized. But not everyone understands the call and follows it. There is a call to following more closely that resounds more urgently in the soul and demands a clear answer. This is the vocation to the religious life, and the answer is the religious vows.
For the person whom the Savior calls away from all natural ties from one’s family, one’s people, and occupational circles to cling to him alone, the bridal connection with the Savior also becomes more prominent than for the general host of the redeemed. They want to belong preeminently to the Lamb for all eternity, to follow him wherever he goes, and to sing the song of the virgins that no one else can sing (Rv 14:1-5).
When the attraction to religious life awakens in the soul, it is as if the Lord were courting it. And if she consecrates herself to him by profession of the vows and harkens to the “Veni, sponsa Christi!” [“Come, spouse of Christ!”], it is like an anticipation of the heavenly marriage feast. Nevertheless, this is but a prospect of the eternal feast of joy. The bridal happiness and fidelity of the soul consecrated to God must stand the test in open and hidden battles and in the everyday flow of religious life. The spouse whom she chooses is the Lamb that was killed. If she is to enter into heavenly glory with him, she must allow herself to be fastened to his cross. The three vows are the nails. The more willingly she stretches herself out on the cross and endures the blows of the hammer, the more deeply will she experience the reality of her union with the Crucified. Then being crucified itself becomes for her the marriage feast.
The vow of poverty opens one’s hands so that they let go of everything they were clutching. It fastens them securely so they can no longer reach toward the things of this world. It should also bind the hands of the spirit and the soul: the desires, which again and again reach for pleasures and things; the cares that want to secure earthly life in every respect; busyness about many things which endangers the one thing necessary. Living in superfluity and secure comfort contradicts the spirit of holy poverty and separates us from the poor Crucified One. Our sisters in the early times of the reform considered themselves happy when they lacked necessities. When the difficulties had been surmounted and enough of everything was at their disposal, they feared that the Lord had withdrawn from them. There is something wrong in a monastic community when concerns for the outer life take up so much time and energy that the spiritual life suffers. And there is something wrong in the soul of the individual religious who starts to take care of herself and to go after what she wants and likes instead of abandoning herself to divine providence and gratefully receiving what it gives her through the hands of the sisters in charge. Naturally, one should, after conscientious consideration, let the superior know what one’s health requires. But having done that, one is relieved of further concern. The vow of holy poverty is intended to make us as carefree as the sparrows and the lilies so that our spirits and hearts may be free for God.
Holy obedience binds our feet so that they no longer go their own way, but God’s way. Children of the world say they are free when they are not subject to another’s will, when no one stops them from satisfying their wishes and inclinations. For this dream of freedom, they engage in bloody battles and sacrifice life and limb. The children of God see freedom as something else. They want to be unhindered in following the Spirit of God; and they know that the greatest hindrances do not come from without, but lie within us ourselves. Human reason and will, which would like so much to be their own masters, are unaware of their susceptibility to be swayed by natural inclinations and so to be enslaved by them. There is no better way of being freed of this slavery and receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit than that of holy obedience. In the poem of Goethe most informed by the Christian spirit, he has his heroine say, “Obedient, my soul felt free indeed.” Genuine obedience is not content merely to avoid manifestly overstepping the prescriptions of Rule and Constitutions or the precepts of the superiors. It actually determines to deny one’s own will. Therefore, the obedient person studies the Rule and the Constitutions, not to ferret out how many so-called “freedoms” are still permitted, but to recognize more and more how many small sacrifices are available daily and hourly as opportunities to advance in self-denial. Such a one takes them on as an easy yoke and a light burden, because doing so deepens the conviction of being closely bound to the Lord who was obedient to death on the cross. To the children of this world such action probably appears as useless, senseless, and petty. The Savior, who for thirty years filled his daily work with such small sacrifices, will judge differently.
The vow of chastity intends to release human beings from all the bonds of natural common life, to fasten them to the cross high above all the bustle, and to free their hearts for union with the Crucified. This sacrifice, too, is not accomplished once and for all. Of course, one is cut off, externally, from occasions that can become temptations outside, but often much that distracts the spirit and the heart, robbing them of their freedom, cleaves to the memory and fantasy. Besides, there is also a danger that new ties establish themselves within the protective cloister walls and hinder full union with the Divine Heart. When we enter the Order, we again become members of a family. We are to see and respect, as head and members of the Mystical Body of Christ, our superiors and the other sisters. But we are human, and something all too human can easily become mingled with holy, childlike, and sisterly love. We believe we see Christ in the people we look up to and fail to notice that we attach ourselves to them humanly and are in danger of losing sight of Christ. But human attraction is not the only cloud on purity of heart. Too little love is a worse offense against the Divine Heart than too much. Every aversion, any anger and resentment that we tolerate in our hearts, closes the door to the Savior. Involuntary stirrings naturally arise through no fault of our own, but as soon as we become aware of them, we must relentlessly oppose them. Otherwise we resist God who is love and do the devil’s work. The song sung by the virgins attending the Lamb is surely one of purest love.
The cross is again raised before us. It is the sign of contradiction. The Crucified looks down on us: “Are you also going to abandon me?” The day for the renewal of vows should always be one of serious self examination. Have we lived up to the promises made in our first fervor? Have we lived in a manner befitting brides of the Crucified, the Lamb that was slain? In the last few months one has often heard the complaint that the many prayers for peace are still without effect. What right have we to be heard? Our desire for peace is undoubtedly genuine and sincere. But does it come from a completely purified heart? Have we truly prayed “in the name of Jesus,” i.e., not just with the name of Jesus on our lips, but with the spirit and in the mind of Jesus, for the glory of the Father alone, without any self-seeking? The day on which God has unrestricted power over our hearts we shall also have unrestricted power over his. If we ponder this, we will no longer dare to judge anyone else. But neither will we be discouraged if, after living in the Order for a long time, we must admit we are still bunglers and beginners. The fountain from the heart of the Lamb has not dried up. We can wash our robes clean in it even today as the thief on Golgotha once did. Trusting in the atoning power of this holy fountain, we prostrate ourselves before the throne of the Lamb and answer his question: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Let us draw from the springs of salvation for ourselves and for the entire parched world. Give us the grace to speak the bride’s words with a pure heart: Come! Come, Lord Jesus. Come soon!
Copyright ICS Publications. used with permission